The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
The Defining Chapter
Remember when you were super excited about the Lord of the RIngs? Remember when you slowly lost touch with The Hobbit? Well, this is the third one - the "defining chapter" if you will. The end of one tale begins the beginning of the next. Surely, with a title like The Battle of the Five Armies there will at least be more combat action than ever seen in Game of Thrones right? Well, let's delve into the furry footed thief story, and see if it re-inspires everyone to read, or if you will end up wishing there was only one movie trilogy in Middle-Earth.
When we last left off, the dwarves and hobbit had caused a very angry dragon to go flying out with the promise of burning the countryside. Our movie picks up at pretty much precisely that spot, with an angry dragon lighting the floating town ablaze. Amidst the chaos, the mayor of the town decides to load his boat up with treasure and try to escape, while the human hero tries to break free of his jail cell and try to defend his home. The remaining dwarves (and elf) gather the man-hero's children and get a boat to escape the town, and the man-hero ends up escaping via some lucky rope action on the mayor's boat. The son sees his father facing off with the dragon atop a tower (as well as the ineffective nature of his bow's arrows), and abandons boat to go bring his father the fabled arrow of dragon slaying. The dragon takes a break from raining fire to monologue at the man-hero and his son, only to end up taking the arrow as a critical hit and after a brief pain-filled flight, falling to the lake on top of the fleeing mayor.
Meanwhile, in the mountain, the now-king dwarf is loosing his mind over the jewel of kings being missing. It's said there's a curse over the treasure, one that causes Dragon Sickness and makes one go crazy over the treasure - to which the dwarven king is indeed showing off quite well. Our hobbit friend in fact has the stone, but is haunted by the words of the dragon before all the trouble started - words that describe how the dwarves would go mad with power until it consumed them should the get the stone - and can't bring himself to let them know. This is only further cemented in his mind when the dwarven king goes back on his own words when the townspeople come for help and their promised reward (that they can use to get back on their feet now that their floating town is burnt to mostly-sunk wreckage). To make matters worse, an Elven Lord has also shown up, wishing to claim elven jewels that were taken there a long time past - willing to go to war if need be. With the dwarven king's now crazy state of mind, war is exactly what the dwarf tells them they will get.
Our wizard friend Gandalf was in a terrible position when we last left him, and ends up being busted out of his predicament by two more Elven Lords and another of his wizard friends. This part essentially ends up being blatant "look, the Lord of the Rings is coming!" and ends with Gandalf riding out to the mountain (everyone is at) to warn them of the oncoming Orc army. Of course, nobody seem to care about believing this wise wizard, and it isn't until a standoff between the Dwarven army and the Human/Elven army that the Orc armies make themselves shown. Full on war breaks out, with the Orcs fighting against a quickly-joined coalition of the Dwarves and Elf/Human armies. Will only the people who haven't seen The Lord of the Rings really question what the heck is going to happen next?
Now, look, I haven't read the books. I'll be upfront about that - so don't expect me to start calling things out like "character X wasn't in the books!" What I can call out is parts of the plot that don't make sense in the movie universe that has been set up by the two before it (and three others that were also technically before it). Some things are indeed kind of wonky in this regard - primarily the fact that everyone acts so surprised about the return of the big bad in the LOTR trilogy when it's shown that most the main major powers already knew of the fact he was essentially back and stirring up trouble. There's also a bit about everyone's favorite elven archer going out and maybe searching for a ranger named Strider - which I guess he just never bothered to do, since they haven't met in the proceeding movies (chronologically). What happens here is much like the The Thing prequel - where a series of events transpire, and you finally start seeing everything rather neatly wrapping up for where they tie in to already-existing sequels, only to have a curve ball or two thrown in that then convolutes things and makes it harder for the already-existing things to make sense.
Actors do a fine job, and the audio is balanced well. Character you aren't supposed to like are easily so - their negative qualities sometimes exaggerated to the extent that it feels like their only purpose to exist. There are a lot of characters floating around by this installment - the big bad orc, all the dwarves, at least three elves, as well as our hobbit and a gaggle of humans - and that's not even including the wizard. In one way, it's kind of nice that the dragon is dealt with so quickly so it's one less person fighting over screen time - on the other hand, it has to be the least impressive dragon as far as combat goes since the wyvern "dragons" from Reign of Fire. Costumes for other characters are actually pretty great though - particularly when it comes to the armor department, where the series refuses to disappoint.
It's almost sad when things get to the full army scale and everything starts getting pretty copy paste then. Certainly, some CG is necessary for large scale, but it looses some of that charm and great detail when it happens. There some moments when the effects work actually looks...worse... than previous moments in the series (that liquid gold was just... I mean, I can't really think of how you'd improve it to be honest, but it wasn't exactly eye candy). There is also a lot of things that feel like it's meant to be for comedy - such as a troll with a couple of rocks tied to it's head, whose sole purpose is to charge headfirst into a wall and knock itself out to create a hole in the walls. There's also a troll who has maces for not just arms, but legs - I mean, what purpose does mace legs do for a troll? Is it going to spin on its back like a Ninja Turtle? Yeah, it's fantasy and it's a movie, you have to overlook some stuff (and we all do countless times), but sometimes things just don't feel like they fit.
What's my final verdict? If you enjoyed the Lord of the Rings more than the previous Hobbit movies, then you should enjoy this one. The pacing doesn't feel quite as ferociously lengthy as the first Hobbit, and overall it doesn't feel quite as goofy as the second Hobbit movie. Book fans will undoubtedly find something to complain about - as they always can - but still may be able to find some enjoyment in it. Unfortunately, if you haven't seen the other two Hobbit flicks, you may be pretty lost as to who all the characters are - as it (thankfully) doesn't waste its time reintroducing every character.